Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Saturday, January 31, 2009


    The gun situation

    Anyone interested in the gun issue as it relates to the Obama administration should read this article.

    I don’t doubt that Obama and Holder have little respect for gun rights. Obama’s pandering during the campaign was almost certainly insincere. But what is politically important is not whether he meant it; it’s that he thought he had to do it in the first place. He even had to run ads in such potential swing states as Ohio and Pennsylvania aimed at countering NRA ads that tagged him as an enemy of gun owners.

    The article contains a well-reasoned argument, and makes some very good points. The Democrats have got to be at least somewhat squirrelly about gun control after what happened during the 1994 elections. However, there is internet scuttlebutt that says Obama and the Democrats may choose to use the gun industry as an object lesson, to demonstrate their Imperial power.

    So the question is, how afraid are the Democrats of sparking another Republican Revolution? I'm no hardcore Washington observer, but I do get the impression that when it comes to big-issue politics, the Republicans are spineless and the Democrats are cowards.

    There is also the need to consider the fact that many Democrats in Western and Southern states, especially in the Senate, come to the table as hardcore 2nd-amendment supporters. Jon Tester of Montana is of course my favorite example. With strong Republican opposition and some defectors in their own ranks, the Democrats in the Senate seem unlikely to be able to kill a filibuster on this issue. My friend Mike has remarked that it's his impression that the Democrats will shy away from any fight that they're not certain they can win, and it seems an accurate assessment from where I sit.

    All of this, I think, indicates that we gun folks can probably relax -- just a little -- for the time being. Obviously, we need to be continually vigilant, but it really seems unlikely to me that we'll see anything the first two years, and I doubt Obama would risk blowing his second term on the issue. That means our first real threat year would be the hypothetical first year of a second Obama term. Again, vigilance always, but right now Obama's probably a far bigger threat to the free market and American wealth than he is to our guns.

    Finally, a little self-puffery: I personally made this assessment a little over 2 years ago, and while there have been some things which have shaken my confidence in my own prediction, it's nice to have this article backing me up. I obviously don't think we've got any hope of regaining lost ground, but the more I think about it, the more comfortable I am with my present read of the situation.

    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2009 8:34:08 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Crash Test Dummy

    Today I was helping the Emmaus community load the semi-trailer to move all of our Walk paraphernalia to Mustang in preparation for next week. The trucker who brought the trailer also brought a pair of old fiberglass ramps for the loading process.

    Many trips were made up and down these ramps as we loaded, and at one point I noticed as I stepped off the truck that one ramp felt a little squishy. On my next trip, I was about to remark on it to the guy I was working with, when the ramp gave way underneath me and both ramps fell clear of the truck.

    As soon as I noticed I was falling, I instinctively tried to tuck into a roll, which probably saved me from a busted knee. I hit the ground in stages, taking most of the impact on my right shoulder, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that I wasn't hurt in any way. The fall was only about 4 feet, and the ramps fell clear of me, so overall it was a minor incident not worth retelling...

    ...but that's not how the others in attendance took it. The guys kept telling me to take a break, get some rest, etc. The women sounded like they were ready to call an ambulance, even though I was still working. All the chatter and buzz was frankly embarrassing.

    The main reason I mention the incident however, is the demographics of the group. There were maybe 2 other guys my age, both with bad backs. There were a dozen or more other guys, all over 50 years of age, most probably over 60. There were half a dozen women, all over 50 as well. And then there was me: 38, been working out like a fiend for 2 years, no back problems to speak of for at least 18 months due to working out, with chest, back, and shoulders relatively well-padded with bruise-resistant muscle.

    So despite all these people tramping up and down the ramp for two hours, the ramps broke at the moment when the guy using them was the one guy out of twenty or so who was least likely to be injured by a fall. It makes me wonder what would have happened to the person who would have fallen had I not shown up.

    Is that what they call "a God thing"?

    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2009 4:07:52 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 29, 2009


    I'm not the only one...

    ...drawing ominous parallels between the Bush Administration's rush to war and the Obama Administration's rush to bailout:

    ...the Dems have learned a lot from the administration they deposed. As the St. Lawrence University economist Steve Horwitz wrote this week, "Accusing your opponents of being 'ethics-free Republican hacks'...means you don't have to argue for the merits of the individual pieces, just scare the public and demonize the opposition. Of course, that's exactly what these same folks complained about after 9/11. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss indeed."

    At least I'll have company up against the wall when the revolution comes.

    Posted by Tom, 1/29/2009 8:24:46 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I thought this was funny

    Much as I'm going to attack Obama on every policy I disagree with, I do like his sense of humor:

    "Can I make a comment that is unrelated to the economy, very quickly?" Obama asked at the White House on Wednesday. "My children's school was canceled today because of what, some ice?"

    As reporters and business leaders laughed, Obama added: "As my children pointed out, in Chicago, school is never canceled. In fact, my 7-year-old [Sasha] pointed out that you'd go outside for recess in weather like this. . . . You wouldn't even stay indoors. So it's -- I don't know. We're going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town."


    I moved to Oklahoma from Michigan, not to escape the cold but rather to get a job. That said, I have no desire to go back to that part of the country that has to deal with winter weather all the time. But kudos to Obama for stepping out of presidential character; I hope he continues to be able to do it. We all need periodic reminders that our leaders are just human beings like the rest of us.

    Posted by Tom, 1/29/2009 6:40:38 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009


    Really, you can't make this stuff up

    So now Obama is pushing the panic button and saying that the so-called "stimulus package" is an emergency:

    Declaring that “we don’t have a moment to spare,” President Obama on Wednesday pushed hard for passage of his economic stimulus plan, promising that it would be not just enormous in scope but run with a transparency and accountability not always associated with huge Washington projects.

    Is it just me, or is this exactly the sort of stunt Bush pulled with the USA PATRIOT Act? According to Reason, this bill is 647 pages long, and there is not a chance in hell that any significant portion of Congress has read the whole thing, much less figured out what it all means. But hey, let's just ram it through and claim victory, right?

    What's even funnier, the Congressional Budget Office has basically laid the whole thing out (hat tip, this guy), and apparently only 8 percent of the stimulus package will even be implemented this year. This is what Obama calls an emergency?

    I repeat, stop the ride, I want to get off.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2009 5:39:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I learned something today

    While doing my workout at lunchtime today, I learned a very important lesson. Being the magnanimous person that I am, I have decided to pass this lesson along to others, that they may benefit from my experience.

    The lesson is this: The barbell is not for use with your head.

    I was bent over, messing with the low pulley on the lat tower, and stood up fast enough to lift the 45-lb olympic bar completely out of the cradle, using only the back of my skull. This is apparently not an appropriate use of the olympic bar, though the saying "no pain, no gain" comes to mind -- in which case I must be gaining a lot of muscle back there.

    Some wiseacre will no doubt say that they could have told me not to lift the bar with my head, but to that person I say, you only knew this in theory. I now know it empirically. I am therefore still ahead of the game.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2009 5:17:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Who wants $10,000?

    Not anybody you know, according to the Obama administration and other proponents of the so-called "stimulus" package. That's how much the "stimulus" will cost every family in America when it's all said & done, assuming the price doesn't go up from here.

    It's important to remember that every dollar used by the government to "create jobs" is a dollar that is taken from the private sector that would also have employed people. The real problem is that government folks, like tax collectors and program administrators, don't work for free, so the dollar starts looking suspiciously like 25 cents (or less) by the time it "creates a job".

    So, while the Obamessiah is saving us from our money, kick back and think... what could you use $10,000 for, that would employ someone? I would build a 1.5-car insulated garage, with heat, so that I had a nicer place to work out, a place to park my truck, and a storage building for the things that are currently in my way. That would employ, at a minimum, a concrete crew and a lot of people at Home Depot.

    Oh, and while you're pondering what you would have done with your $10,000 had you been allowed to keep it, Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy has a really great question for you: What happened to the last giant infrastructure bill?

    These days, we are repeatedly told that we have to pass a massive new infrastructure spending bill in order to fix our "crumbling" roads and bridges. Everyone seems to have forgotten that just three years ago, in August 2005, Congress enacted the biggest federal public works program in American history, spending a massive $286.4 billion on the 2005 highway bill. At that time, President Bush and congressional leaders from both parties told us that the new highway bill was needed to fix our infrastructure problems.

    Before passing a new and potentially even bigger infrastructure spending bill, I would just like to know what happened to all that money Congress appropriated for the same purpose back in 2005? If that act succeeded in its purpose, it's not clear why we need another huge federal infrastructure bill now, less than four years later. If it failed, we need to know why.


    Is anyone but me feeling the white-hot rage yet?

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I think I've had about all the stimulation I can stand, and the stupid thing hasn't even passed yet.


    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2009 5:03:38 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A nice broadside

    Is it just me, or do liberals like to use the "everybody agrees" line just a bit too much? First there was the global warming issue, where they asserted that "all scientists agree" that the earth is/was about to die. Now there's the "all economists agree" that massive government spending is the only way to counteract an economic crisis caused by massive government spending.

    Thankfully, a group of economists has decided to call shenanigans on that one:

    "There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy."
    -- PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA, JANUARY 9 , 2009

    With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true.

    Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance. More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan's "lost decade" in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today. To improve the economy, policy makers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production. Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth.


    See a list of the signatories (including Vernon Smith!) here: PDF or HTML.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2009 5:00:12 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    What the...?

    D.W. MacKenzie points out that Obama's tax cuts are not all that they seem to be:

    Obama's tax cut does not shift resources into the private sector, as a true tax cut would. What Obama is proposing is deferred taxation. He wants to spend now and tax later. The Obama deficits will increase the interest payments by the federal government, draw money in capital markets away from private investment, and ultimately result in higher future tax rates.

    ...

    ...Obama wants to "jump start the economy" by deferring some of the taxes we pay to some indefinite future time period. This will stimulate some parts of the economy. The people who get these tax deferments will spend at least some of the money on things that they want now. Some businesses will get more revenue. But this will just draw money from other business investments.

    Overall, the Obama plan to borrow now and tax later does not stimulate the economy; it just keeps a large part of the economy in the public sector. There is no real tax cut in his proposal. In real economic terms, the alleged tax cuts in Obama's plan keep tax rates the same.


    And color me confused. I was POSITIVE that the Democrats campaigned for the last 8 years against Bush specifically on the subject of deficit spending:

    Our New Direction for America means turning away from the irresponsible deficit spending by President Bush and the Republican Congress that has added $3 trillion in new debt. We will restore the proven budget discipline that eliminated deficits and generated record economic growth.

    I guess it's OK as long as it's your guy who's doing it.

    UPDATE:

    The Republicans are now pushing a counter-proposal that's pretty much all tax cut. It sucks just as bad:

    Their bill, called the Economic Recovery and Middle-Class Tax Relief Act of 2009, promises a host of tax-cutting measures. It includes a 5 percent "across the board" income tax cut; an increase in the child tax credit from $1,000 to $5,000; a freeze on capital gains and dividends tax rates at 15 percent; and a number of other measures targeted toward businesses.

    Notice there's nothing here about spending cuts, so once again we're still shoveling money out the door, running up the credit card bill, and telling our children to pay for it.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2009 7:52:08 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009


    Nobody knows what capitalism is

    If they did, folks like Bush, Paulson, Bernanke, and Greenspan would not be able to claim to support it without being called out for the bald-faced liars that they are. Thankfully, we have the folks at Mises tirelessly setting the record straight:

    In an interview on CNN, Bush stated, "I've abandoned free-market principles in order to save the free-market system."

    Only in the mind of Bush can this claim seem logical.

    ...

    ...Bernanke's actions during the "crisis" have shown him to be a nonbeliever in the free market. He, along with Paulson, used the ensuing panic to demand powers never before granted to the Fed. We are all too familiar with what Bernanke used his powers to do, from brokering (and funding) mergers to nationalizing banks. No true proponent of capitalism could ever condone the actions taken by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Yet even before the "crisis," socialists were holding Bernanke up as the apotheosis of capitalist ideals.


    What we have here is a massive fallacy of the straw man variety. Or maybe it's a Reichstag burning. Something. If neomercantilists/socialists like Bernanke and Bush can claim to be "supporters of capitalism", with enough gravitas to fool the credulous public, opportunistic socialists of the variety that don't mind being called socialists will certainly let them play the foil. After all, it beats having to defend socialism against real capitalists.

    Posted by Tom, 1/27/2009 5:37:25 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 26, 2009


    Snoozlers

    After a long, hard day of barking at various interlopers, the Z crew (Zeus, Zack, and Zoe) is beat.







    It's a dog's life, but it's a good one.

    Posted by Tom, 1/26/2009 9:17:25 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    On the topic of Obama's proposed $700 billion $875 billion $1 trillion giant loads of money economic stimulus package:

    If massive government spending grows the economy, then we should all be millionaires after eight years of Bush rule, shouldn't we?
    -- Nick Gillespie, Reason magazine


    Posted by Tom, 1/26/2009 5:53:39 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Obama so far

    The Obamadolatry of the last week really drove me insane. There was nowhere I could go to escape from it. Even people on World of Warcraft were talking about how the sun shines out his butt.

    I was actually kind of happy with the first few things he did, including the Gitmo thing. Of course, it shows just how utterly useless the rest of the Democratic Party is, since they've controlled congress for 2 years and haven't done a damn thing to buck Bush on that issue. And since the current Gitmo authorization was created by Congress after the Supreme Court told Bush he needed their OK (see the Military Commissions Act of 2006), there's no reason whatsoever for the Democrats to sit on it for this long unless they're just a bunch of useless cowards. The Republicans did it, and they never even tried to undo it, despite wailing and moaning endlessly about the Gitmo problem. It's no wonder their approval rating was even lower than Bush's.

    I am of course as completely opposed to the idea of "economic stimulus" now as I was back in September when both candidates voted for the ridiculous thing and proved to me that they were the last people on earth who should be running the country. If Obama really wants my support (and I'm sure he doesn't give a rat's patoot), he'll toss the whole idea in the garbage can and let the market work. But he won't, so I'll still think he's a sucky president.

    The gun issue hasn't come up yet, and I'm just hoping that it doesn't before I can lay in some more inventory. That's about it from my perspective.

    Posted by Tom, 1/26/2009 5:10:59 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Facebook

    I've never been one that's much for following trends, especially when it comes to the latest greatest "social networking" idea on the internet. MySpace looked like a bunch of 3-year-olds ate too much candy and threw up on the internet. I still don't get Twitter. And most of the other things I've been invited to (Classmates.com, for example) seem too much like somebody trying to figure out how to get into my wallet for me to find them truly enjoyable.

    I was looking for someone (forget who), and somehow got the idea that they might be on Facebook (they weren't). So I signed up, set up my page, and largely gave up on it after that. Some time later, I started discovering that other people I knew were on it, so I went back to my page and did some dinking around to get it closer to what I wanted it to be: a portal for this website. I was rather impressed with Facebook's ability to consume RSS feeds, and since I already had a feed set up for SurlyCurmudgeon.com, it was trivial to start automagically importing these posts.

    The thing that Facebook really seems to bring to the table is the ability to maintain what I call "light contact". Most of the people in our social circles aren't really involved in our lives on a day-to-day basis. With many of them, the effort of a phone call or letter or email is rather overdone for the level of intimacy in the relationship. Too many times, I'll talk to someone via email or telephone, and very quickly realize I have nothing much to say. It can be very disconcerting.

    Facebook is handy because it allows me to check how folks are doing, tell them how I'm doing, but not get into the deeper topics that would require an actual conversation. It's not that conversation is bad, it's just that honestly, most people don't actually want to have one. A conversation is an exchange of ideas -- a meeting of the minds. It requires that we express ourselves and allow the other person to express themselves, in a meaningful way that goes beyond mere cliche and small talk. Facebook more or less frees us from that and just lets us post relatively meaningless trivia about ourselves, while occasionally giving a look into the more significant events in our lives.

    For example, one of my Facebook friends recently lost a loved one, and posted it on their page. This is something I would not ordinarily have heard about, so at least with Facebook I was afforded the opportunity to express my condolences. If the relationship were more intimate, and the interaction had turned into something closer to a soul-searching conversation about life, the universe, and everything, Facebook probably would have been shoved aside for a more traditional means of communication.

    Facebook does have its problems. The interface is somewhat clunky, and the updates that appear seem utterly random in their organization, almost as though they are deliberately non-deterministic. I find myself getting lost when searching for updates from a particular person, or a particular piece of information. It's more of a stream-of-consciousness technology than a structured approach to data, and that occasionally leaves me -- a person who needs information to be strictly organized and regimented -- utterly bewildered and barely able to function. But on the whole, it does what it does very well, and it provides a technological solution to a problem I might not otherwise have considered.

    Posted by Tom, 1/26/2009 7:07:26 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, January 23, 2009


    Quote of the Day

    “You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”
    --Dr. Adrian Rogers, 1931-2005


    Posted by Tom, 1/23/2009 6:56:01 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 22, 2009


    Quote of the Day

    Liberals want the government to be your Mommy.
    Conservatives want government to be your Daddy.
    Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult.
    -- Andre Marrou


    Posted by Tom, 1/22/2009 7:45:03 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009


    Meet the new boss...

    ...whose rhetoric is absolutely nothing like the old boss...



    ...is it?

    Posted by Tom, 1/21/2009 5:39:55 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009


    Quote of the Day

    "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."
    -- P.J. O'Rourke


    Posted by Tom, 1/20/2009 11:03:48 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Stop the ride, I want to get off

    Of course, today the big news is the ascension coronation inauguration of America's first openly black president. I say "openly" black because Bill Clinton was reported to be the first black president, even though he's as fish-belly white as I am.

    I can certainly see the historic nature of the event. We've gone from a nation where people of color were regarded as mere farm animals to a nation where we have a person of color in our highest elected office. I get it. There is no need whatsoever to lecture me further on this point.

    I only wish that, as the t-shirt in the previous post implies, Barack Obama was something more than your average, run-of-the-mill, beltway-insider, Chicago-style politician. For all the talk of how great and wonderful and visionary he is, so far he's nothing more than a Democrat, and not a particularly imaginative one at that. His campaign platform was nothing more than the standard Democrat rhetoric with the anti-gun stuff strategically toned down. His comments on the financial crisis are the same ridiculous Keynesian assertions and policy prescriptions that Democrats have peddled forever as supposedly "different" from the Keynesian assertions and prescriptions of the Republicans. And his cabinet reminds us that Democrats truly believe in recycling.

    I almost feel sorry for the true leftists, the hippie love-children who think he's going to bring an end to hunger, war, and mortgage payments. And while the right wing is cowering in their bunkers, trying to make sense of why their guy didn't get elected, I figure it's most probable that the Obama presidency will be just as much a failure as the Bush presidency, because nothing substantial has really changed. Sure, we might get the dreaded Assault Weapons Sham re-enacted, and that will suck big time. It's likely that some new financial bubble will emerge, creating the illusion of prosperity for which Obama will get the credit. But he won't be able to save Social Security (it can't be saved), he won't put an end to war in the Middle East (he'll likely join a few wars in Africa, if his rhetoric is to be believed), and he certainly will not put a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.

    What he can do, and most likely will do, is renege on his promise of a middle-class tax cut. He'll probably even raise taxes. I don't say this out of any cynicism toward his party, but out of the fact that he practices Keynesian economics (like almost everyone in Washington), and raising taxes is the policy that must be pursued under current conditions as a result of such thinking. It'll either happen now, or he'll borrow and deficit-spend which will force the raising of taxes later. He's said that his first priority is putting America back to work, which in Keynesian thought means making the government the employer of last resort, just as Hoover and Roosevelt tried to do.

    The part that really bugs me about all this is that we've been told for over a year how brilliant the man is, yet so far he's doing the same thing that has failed to deliver for almost a century. It's my experience that truly bright people tend to think outside the box. Why then is Obama setting himself up to be as completely ordinary a Democrat as George Bush was a Republican?

    Posted by Tom, 1/20/2009 7:42:36 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 19, 2009


    Buy my crap

    I liked the line so much, I turned it into a t-shirt, which all are welcome to purchase:



    Small profits will be used for ammunition or something. Large profits will be donated to some worthy cause, like the Institute for Justice.

    Posted by Tom, 1/19/2009 6:14:22 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Keep the Change

    I've not been paying a great deal of attention to the Obama cabinet picks, but what attention I have been giving it has left me with a vague impression that all the radical change that's been promised is largely ephemeral. Reason TV has this nice little clip that shows pretty solidly that the Obama administration is nothing more than a Clinton re-tread:



    Where's the grand sweeping vision? Where's the man who promised to deliver us from "politics as usual"? They promised me a messiah, but all I got was this lousy Democrat.

    "Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss"
    -- The Who

    Posted by Tom, 1/19/2009 5:45:29 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Bite-sized Economics: The Subjective Theory of Value

    As I've studied economics, a lot of it seems to be a repackaging of common sense or common knowledge. Most people intuitively know the rules; what the study of economics brings to the table is a rigorous way of thinking about them. It also gives us handy names for certain ideas, which we'd otherwise have to describe in conversation in order to communicate effectively. So it is with the subjective theory of value.

    The subjective theory of value is simply a name for the idea that every individual values things differently from other individuals, and values things differently at different times. It is an all-encompassing definition of preference. However, it is not enough for an individual to simply state a preference. In economic terms, a human being has to act on that preference. They must do something that physically demonstrates their preference.

    A simple example of this is the fact that I like buying and owning guns, but my brother does not. I place a relatively high value on guns and shooting sports; I have made allowances in my monthly budget for ammunition, and I spend time cleaning and maintaining my guns as well as shopping for new guns. He does none of these things, and his lack of action indicates to the economist that he does not value guns.

    The other facet of the subjective theory of value is that individuals value things differently at different times. A perfect example of this is children's toys. Adults have almost no use for them other than for their value in occupying children's time. A child on the other hand will value them greatly; their toys are often the most important things in their world. As they grow older, they value them less and less, until they too see them as merely a means to keep their own kids busy.

    Another example is that of the starving man. He values food -- let's say a hamburger -- very greatly, and will likely do almost anything to get one. After he's eaten his first hamburger however, he will value a second hamburger somewhat less. After he eats the second, he will value the third even less than that. Eventually he will reach a point where he will declare that he doesn't value another hamburger at all, or more succinctly, a point at which he will demonstrate a greater preference for something that is not a hamburger -- perhaps a nap.

    This point of choosing something else also has a handy name, marginal utility. "Utility" is simply a way of expressing that an object or service will accomplish something that an individual wants. The starving man derives utility from the hamburgers that he eats. The "margin" is that point at which he does not desire another hamburger, at least not for the same purpose. He may be motivated to obtain another hamburger to store for the future, but this is still a change of preference: first he desired a hamburger to eat now, next he desires a hamburger to eat in the future.

    Some may ask, "why a subjective theory of value, as opposed to the implied objective theory of value?" Economics, as Mises put it, is essentially the study of human action. It is the study of how human beings use things. One might say that a rock has intrinsic value all its own, but the statement goes nowhere. It is only when a human being takes notice of the rock that it begins to have any meaning to human beings, and when the rock is noticed, it is immediately assigned some sort of value: the human being who notices it may decide it would look better in a different spot, or that it would make a good place to sit, or that it should be used to build a house, or that it has no value at all, in which case it waits for another human being to decide differently. It is only when a human being does something with the rock that it gains value, through the purposeful use to which the human being puts it. And because the use to which it is put will vary by the individual who finds it, the value it gains is said to be subjective.

    Posted by Tom, 1/19/2009 7:51:21 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 18, 2009


    Gran Torino

    Is it just me, or does Clint Eastwood keep getting better with age?

    In Gran Torino, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a grumpy old codger (one might even say a surly curmudgeon... heh heh) and Korean War veteran whose wife just died. He lives in one of the older neighborhoods in Detroit, one which has gone from a presumably white neighborhood to one which is largely Hmong.

    Kowalski's not very pleased with the state of things, and has a deep (but relatively mild) racist streak running through him. Racial epithets flow like punctuation in his conversations, but it's actually strangely funny. The people he talks to largely don't respond to his jibes, or they return them in kind, and there's some growth on his part with regard to his understanding of his Hmong neighbors. As a certifiable old fart, he seems utterly incapable (or unwilling) when it comes to learning how names are properly pronounced, and inserts his own shorthand when it suits him, to occasionally hilarious effect. He reminds me of older people who've stopped trying to guess what other people want to hear and just say whatever pops into their heads.

    As can be gathered from the previews, the major drama in the story arises from gang activity, and Kowalski's ire is rather quickly focused in that direction as he begins to assume responsibility for his neighbors' well-being. Various altercations soon build to a head, and the anticipated showdown eventually ensues. I won't ruin the ending, but it is some of what you expect and some of what you don't.

    What I found utterly refreshing about the story was the character of Kowalski himself. Too many times nowadays, we see movies with whitewashed protagonists, where even the anti-heroes are nauseatingly PC. While Kowalski isn't a Klansman by any stretch of the imagination, he is clearly communicated as someone with deep-seated prejudice who largely wants nothing to do with anyone who isn't another old white guy. It is only in the face of problems greater than race (gang violence) that he is able to set his views aside and pay attention to what's really important. That Eastwood took the role and made Kowalski simultaneously offensive and lovable is I think a credit to Eastwood's skill and integrity -- we want Kowalski to be an all-around good guy, but we have to accept that he isn't and instead see him for what he is, warts and all.

    All around, I'd give this movie an 8/10. On the Surly Curmudgeon scale of movie ratings, that means go see it at the theater, or at least put it near the top of your DVD rental list.

    Posted by Tom, 1/18/2009 3:45:21 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 15, 2009


    Another routine change

    I've settled into a new workout routine... I think I started it around November. I think I'm doing better with it than I have with any other routine, so I'm going to stick with it for a while.

    Essentially, it's a full-body workout that mixes various compound moves with some isolation exercises to hit those areas people typically want to emphasize. It recommends a warmup set every time you change which major muscle group you're working, but otherwise it's a single set of each exercise, with maximum weight (~8RM), to failure. (I occasionally throw in an extra set, but the workout itself is brutal.) Once you hit 10-12 reps on that max set, you add 5 pounds to the exercise for the next workout.

    The original routine looks like this:

    Squats
    Leg Extensions
    Leg Curls
    Dumbbell Pullovers
    Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press
    Seated Rows
    Bench Press
    Barbell Bicep Curls
    Tricep Extensions
    Weighted Pullups
    Weighted Dips
    Standing Calf Raises
    Abs

    Calf raises do something nasty to the bottom of my right foot. There's a tendon or something that screams after doing that anywhere near my capacity, so I find it difficult to judge how much weight to use. I'd rather be able to walk, and my calves quite frankly are my best feature, so I feel comfortable dumping that exercise.

    The bicep curls have been hit and miss for me as well, since my last routine severely messed up my right elbow. I'm only hitting that one about once a week maximum while I try to let that heal.

    Pullups at this point are only a dream for me. I was able to do them when I was 20 pounds lighter, and I'm headed back in that direction, but right now I substitute cable pulldowns. On the bright side, I recently tried some pullups and can manage a couple before the aforementioned right elbow starts screaming bloody murder.

    Dumbbell pullovers are a scary exercise -- there's a point at which I swear I can almost feel something getting ready to rip in my shoulder. I'm doing them with much less weight that I probably need to, but the rotator cuff is a fragile thing and I'd hate to mess it up. I've also switched to cable pullovers since I've maxed out my current dumbbell set and don't want to buy more for just one exercise, especially since dumbbells are going for about $1/pound nowadays ($45, 3 workouts. Another $50, 3 workouts. Now $55, 3 workouts... and so on).

    I've also found that I just miss my deadlifts, so I recently decided to add them back in. So here's the routine as modified for my needs, abilities, equipment, and desires:

    Squats
    Deadlifts
    Leg Extensions
    Leg Curls
    Cable Pullovers
    Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press
    Seated Rows
    Bench Press
    Barbell Bicep Curls (once a week, max)
    Tricep Extensions
    Cable Pulldowns
    Weighted Dips
    Abs

    At first blush, it seems that a workout like this would be far less effective than the multi-set, split-day routines that most people advocate. It doesn't feel that way to me, because I'm making serious progress on this workout. There's a psychological edge to knowing that last time I did 8, this time I need to do at least 9. Sometimes I can blast right past 9 and hit 10 or 11. And sometimes it takes me several tries to add a single rep. But somehow knowing that I have a previous "record" to beat, and that it should only take just a little extra effort, makes it easier to advance.

    While I'm primarily concerned with strength gains, I'm also pleased that this workout seems to be doing much more for my appearance than previous routines. There's a remote possibility that I may be able to go shirtless this summer, without all the body image issues of a 13-year-old girl, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Posted by Tom, 1/15/2009 6:28:10 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 11, 2009


    Quote of the Day



    -- sign outside Shorty Small's restaurant, Oklahoma City



    Posted by Tom, 1/11/2009 11:20:34 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009


    Non post

    I haven't been posting much lately because I'm working on getting a speech written, and it's sucking all my creative energy dry. When it's done I may post some excerpts.

    Posted by Tom, 1/6/2009 5:15:52 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, January 3, 2009


    Gym woes

    Apparently the downturn in the economy is problematic for health clubs and gyms, but they are doing pretty well with it in spite of the conditions:

    Even with the economy teetering on the brink of complete collapse gyms and health facilities all over the country are reporting record sales as the most profitable time of the year for health clubs comes through for yet another season.

    (check second article for AWESOME picture)

    I for one am happy to have a home gym that does everything I need. I have no monthly membership to pay, I don't have to share the equipment and risk the various health problems that have become a concern (MRSA, for example), and I can work out any time I want. Sure, I've got a lot of money invested in the equipment, but I think it's definitely paying off.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2009 10:27:15 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 1, 2009


    New Year's

    I'm not one for resolutions. I set goals for myself, and try to live up to them, but resolutions seem so absolute that, like a lot of people, I find that I've completely abandoned them by February. That being the case, I was resolved not to make any resolutions this year, as in past years.

    This morning I was reading in Hebrews and James, and ran across a verse referenced often by my good net-friend, PastorFreud, James 5:12:

    But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.

    I'm a person given to long-winded explanations or supporting arguments for my decisions. I worry about what others think and try to soften the blow when I think I'm about to make an unpopular decision. Far too often, I "go along to get along", saying "yes" when I mean "no", and vice versa. It never really seems to help.

    So I think that if I were to make a resolution this year, it would be this: I will let my yes be yes and my no be no.

    Posted by Tom, 1/1/2009 7:13:42 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...